The Biological Weapons Convention is the result of an international effort to
address biological and medical research used for both peaceful purposes and the
making of weapons. The convention was signed in 1972, was ratified by the U.S.
Senate in 1974, and entered into force in 1975. However, the first official U.S.
action on biological weapons occurred in November 1969 when President Richard
Nixon renounced all biological weapons research and employment by the United
He did not prohibit U.S. R&D of defences against biological weapons, such as the
production of vaccines. Although the United States was sincere in its
renunciation of bio-weapons research and employment, the motives of several of
the many nations signing the BWC can be questioned. Those countries include
Iran, Iraq, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Libya, and Syria.
The BWC provides for signatories to exchange materials, equipment, and
scientific and technological information for the promotion of peaceful uses of
biological R&D (Article X). But the treaty prohibits signatories from
stockpiling bio-weapons (Articles I–II) and requires those nations to proscribe
bio-weapons development or possession within their borders (Article IV). The BWC
insists that signatories agree to cooperate in prohibiting the transfer,
development, and employment of biological weapons, including toxins (Article
The convention also requires that participating nations assist in investigating
allegations of bio-weapons R&D or use (Articles V–VII). The original treaty did
not include any protocols or procedures for its enforcement. That omission and
other concerns have been the focus of numerous international meetings since
The major focus of the discussions on enforcement has been inspections and
procedures. The proposed scope and mechanics of inspections are approaching
consensus and final adoption. Many of the proposed details are beyond the scope
of this study. The issues addressed in this paper are whether such inspections
will ensure compliance with the BWC and whether the proposed inspection
protocols are constitutional.
Strengthening the BWC Enforcement Measures
Proposals to strengthen the BWC have three main features. The first is a
declaration process in which biotechnology companies and government laboratories
provide information on such matters as their activities and equipment and the
biological materials they use. The second feature is inspection and
investigation regimes of varying levels of intrusiveness that arise from the
declarations or from accusations of violation of the BWC.
The third element consists of supporting documents collected from the inspected
facility and in some cases retained by the inspecting team and the organization
that administers the BWC. Generally, the essential enforcement mechanisms of the
BWC are mandatory declaration about facilities and activities of greatest
concern to the BWC signatories, including information on past and present
activities, equipment, and types of biological organisms on site; nonchallenge
visits that are either random (visits to declared facilities intended to verify,
as needed, the declarations) or focused (visits to declared facilities to
clarify inconsistent declarations); and facility and field investigations in
response to any compliance concerns that may arise.
The kinds and numbers of visits have been in some flux as the discussions on
strengthening the BWC have proceeded. Possible triggers for visits may include
past offensive or defensive biological programs, current defensive programs,
vaccine production facilities, facilities with stringent safety requirements (Biosafety
Level-4 facilities), any R&D programs with listed biological agents of concern,
and nonvaccine production facilities.
Inspections in Iraq: A Case Study in Ineffectiveness
The limited prospects of success of the protocols for inspections and
investigations under the BWC can be seen by examining the UNSCOM inspections of
Iraq’s R&D programs for bio-weapons. In April 1991 Iraq officially declared the
absence of any biological weapons (a declaration required under the BWC).
Between 1991 and 1995 UNSCOM inspection teams could not find any evidence of an
Iraqi bio-weapons program—despite fears and vague intelligence provided by
In 1995, after Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law defected and revealed the existence
of a bio-weapons program, Iraq finally admitted that such R&D was under way. As
noted by Graham Pearson, Biological investigations have, even after the
admissions by Iraq and despite more than 35 inspections, never seen a filled BW
weapon or bulk agent
Iraq then asserted that bio-weapons had been destroyed
but could offer no verifiable evidence. Yet, if agents were destroyed, none
would probably remain for detection. In addition, the inspectors felt that the
absence of paperwork was a problem. But even reams of paperwork recording
destruction would not necessarily guarantee compliance.
Fundamental problems exist with enforcement regimes proposed for the BWC. Rogue
states (for example, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Syria) can easily thwart the
enforcement regime. A rogue state is unlikely to declare that it has a
bio-weapons R&D program currently in place. U.S. laws concerning bio-weapons R&D
are cited as examples on which other countries may model their laws to comply
with the BWC.
But is one to assume that if Iraq enacted tough U.S.-style laws against
bio-weapons R&D, that would obviate any concern over Iraqi aspirations to have
biological weapons and the need for closer scrutiny of Iraqi facilities?
If sensitive areas of a facility and sensitive or proprietary documents are
opaque to inspection under the confidentiality provisions of the protocols, then
inspectors essentially have only the word of the inspected facility. Logic
dictates that any bio-weapons R&D areas and documents will be declared
confidential and out of bounds to inspectors. Rogue states will certainly seek
to conceal their activities behind rules on confidentiality.
The February 1999 National Symposium on Medical and Public Health Response to
Bioterrorism may have been a start in the right direction. Instead of
undertaking feel-good efforts to strengthen an international convention that
will not stop the proliferation of biological weapons and will probably lead to
the compromise of proprietary biotech information, the U.S. government should
reduce its profile as a target for biological weapons by limiting overseas
interventions and enhance domestic preparedness against attack.
Written By: Ujjwal Vats,
BA.LLB (hons.) VII Semester - IMS Unison
Authentication No: AG023307097371-20-820